Jörg Demus made his debut in New York in the mid nineteen fifties,
his name was not new to the music loving public in America as, from 1950
on, his earliest recordings had been available in the US, and exclusively
on the Remington label of Don Gabor. Of course the recordings were made
in Austria and were produced by
Prawy who arranged for the recordings of not only Jörg Demus
but many other pianists, violinists and cellists, and he was responsible
for the recordings with the Viennese Symphonic Orchestra which often was
also called Niederössterreichisches Tonkünstler Orchester and
Austrian Symphony Orchestra.
from the first releases on Remington, the interpretations of Jörg
Demus were loved because of the sensitivity of playing and the perfect
phrasing, and they were admired because of his superb technique. And
all this despite the often less than perfect (to put it mildly) matrix
production and pressings of so many a Remington disc.
one cannot resist being captivated by the spell of Jörg Demus's
playing of the Partitas 1 and 6 of J.S. Bach, his equally distinctive
rendering of Ballades Nos. 3 and 4 of Chopin, and his fine performance
of the Schubert Sonata Opus Posthumous. There is no bravura, there is
no spectacularity, but a restrained inner passion. If his interpretations
need to be called spectacular it is because of the complete absence
of demonstrative pianism, overly loud climaxes and the absence of peculiar
On the contrary. His performances take the listener far beyond the score.
He transcends the music, dematerializes it, while touching the inner
core of the composition, the essence, all shells having been peeled
wonder music critic
Demotte characterized the Remington record of the Schubert Sonata
Opus Posthume as follows: "Demus is in excellent form, technically
and interpretively; it is a pleasure to acknowledge the maturity of
his playing. This is one of Remington's best records."
And about the Chopin Ballades he wrote: "Demus promises much for
the future in his sensitive performances of the Third and Fourth Ballades"
About the Beethoven Sonatas: "Demus, in his early twenties, has
astonishing poetic maturity." And of Schubert's Moments Musicaux
Demotte commented: "Demus's playing is warm and caressing, characteristics
that are especially attractive in such a young pianist."
Demus at the time when his earliest recordings were released on
Remington Records and when he subsequently recorded for Westminster.
Image taken from Westminster WN 18044 with Mozart Sonatas and
Andante for two pianos/four hands with Paul Badura-Skoda which
were originally released in 1951 on Westminster WL 5060 and WL
5069 respectively, edited by R.A.B.
Another critic, Cecil Smith of the New Republic, wrote in the
April 23, 1951 edition:
"Jorg Demus and Alexander Jenner, neither of whom I ever
heard of, appear to be the best of Remington's pianists. Mr.
Demus plays Schubert's Moments Musicaux, Op. 94, with a buoyant
lilt, and gives musicianly accounts of two Beethoven sonatas,
Op. 109 and Op. 110. He plays the Fifth French Suite of Bach
with skill and clarity, though this music sounds much better
on the harpsichord. Mr. Jenner offers sensitive and attractive
performances of the Chopin Etudes Op. 25. In all these records
the piano sounds reasonably well, though not as well as it
can in the best full-price products".
is some confusion among biographers and encyclopedists about the actual
date of birth of Jorg Demus. Some state December 2nd 1928. A Dutch encyclopedia
mentions March 2nd 1926 in the short biography. And yet another source
calls March 2nd 1928 as date of birth, while the liner notes of Westminster
WN 18044 mentions February 2nd 1929. Most of these could be caused by
misreading the handwriting of one or more clerks or producers/researcher
preparing the liner notes or the entries in an encyclopedia. This matter
still has to be cleared.
Demus was born in Sankt Pölten in Niederösterreich and
at the age of six he commenced the study of the piano. At the early
age of eleven he was admitted to the "Viennese State Academy for
Music and Dramatic Art" (currently 'Universität für Musik
und Darstellende Kunst'). He made his debut at the "Gesellschaft
der Musikfreunde" (Society of Friends of Music) in Vienna when
he was fourteen years old. He studied composition with composer Joseph
Marx, and piano and theory with Walter Kerschbaumer - significant and
familiar names for so many students of that era. He also studied organ,
with Karl Walter, conducting with no less than Josef Krips and also
composition with Johann Nepomuk David.
He also studied with Edwin Fischer, Walter Gieseking, Yves Nat and
Arturo Benedetti Michelangeli. He concertized at the Vienna Konzerthaus
and traveled to give performances in the Netherlands, Switzerland, Italy,
England, Germany, and South America. In 1956 he won the "Busoni
Prize" and two years later he was awarded the "Harriet Cohen-Bach
Medal" in London.
Remington recordings led to the contract with Westminster and
by 1958 Demus had already a long list of discs to his name with solo
recordings, chamber music and a few concertos. On his repertory: Beethoven,
Franck, Mozart (with Paul Badura-Skoda), Schmidt, and an extensive list
of works by Schubert.
In the nineteen sixties Joerg Demus began recording for Deutsche
Grammophon Gesellschaft as soloist, in chamber music ensembles,
and as an accompanist of a.o. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Schubert).
also accompanied Elly Ameling, made recordings on original instruments
for the BASF and Harmonia Mundi labels, accompanied Peter Schreier
(Haydn Songs - Eterna label) on Eurodisk, performed again Bach, and
recorded the complete piano music of Claude Debussy. To hear Beethoven
and Schubert being played on a Hammerklavier is not for everyone
a treat because many pianists do not master the old instruments sufficiently
to perform the music with a large palette of color and dynamics. It
suffice to hear Jörg Demus playing a William Stodart piano
to know that his style is rich in sound and has many nuances.
Demus receives The Beethoven Ring, presented to him by Mr. Klemens
Kramert, President of the Viennese Beethoven Society (Wiener Beethoven
(Picture taken from the Eurodisc 2 LP gatefold, reference 300
054-406, edited by R.A.B.).
specific proof of Jörg Demus's art of interpretation was recorded
on March 27th, 1977, when he received The Beethoven Ring (earlier
only presented to pianist Elly Ney and conductor Volkmar Andreae).
Demus performed before a live audience the Sonatas Nos. 8 (Pathétique),
17 (Der Sturm), 26 (Les Adieux) and No. 32. After hearing the first
bars of the Sonata Pathétique, or the introduction of 'Les Adieux'
one realizes how distinguished the approach of the maestro is and that
it is completely in line with his early recordings from the nineteen
fifties: refined phrasing and subtle dynamics. Although a performance
before a live public represents a challenge, it can be said that he
masters the score in an intimate, yet affirmative way.
Remington discography of Jörg Demus:
R-149-12 Chopin: Ballades No. 3 in A flat major Op. 47 and No.
4 in F minor Op. 52 (also released on the Merit label: M1-18).
R-149-21 Schubert: Moments Musicaux Op. 94, D 780.
Bach: French Suite No. 5 and Partita No. 1 (Concerteum CR241)
R-199-29 Beethoven: Piano Sonatas Nos. 30 (Op. 109) and 31 (Op.
110) (Concerteum CR 239)
R-199-39 Schubert: Piano Sonata Opus Posthumous (Concerteum 310)
R-199-92 Bach: Partita No. 6 and Preludes and Fugues in G Major
and G Minor from The Well Tempered Clavier (Das Wohltemperierte Clavier);
in France issued on Concerteum 309.
R-199-108/3 Bach's Six Partitas performed by Jörg Demus
on piano (Nos. 1 and 6),
Sari Biro on piano (No. 2) and pianist/harpsichordist
Gillespie on harpsichord (Nos. 3, 4 and 5).
At the end of World War II
harpsichordist John Gillespie spent two years at the "Conservatoire
national de Paris", studying organ with André Marchal and
Marcel Dupré. He later returned to Paris for two years of study
at the Sorbonne. He completed his studies in the US and received the
Ph.D. in musicology in 1951.
A. Bruil, March 17th, 2005
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